May 20 2016
By Tim Rose

Paul Morrison is a 52-year-old radio personality who was just enjoying a normal life when one day he found a lump in his throat. That’s a terrifying moment for anyone, but it’s especially terrifying for someone who uses his voice for his livelihood. Paul shares how rebuilding his life since cancer has helped him take everything, big and small, less seriously.

Two years ago, I was just living my life like everyone else: going to work every day, raising the family, enjoying life.  Then one day, I felt a lump in my neck. I knew what that could mean, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, and I certainly didn’t want to scare my wife and kids. So, I went through the process of seeing some doctors on my own without talking to anyone first. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a little thing; it was stage four throat cancer. At that point, I had no choice but to talk to my kids and my wife and tell them what was happening. 

At first, the doctors didn’t know whether they wanted to do surgery or chemo. The cancer was pretty deep in my left tonsil. When they did the PET scan of my whole body, they found that it had already metastasized to my lymph nodes, but it had not traveled below the collarbone. The docs said if it had gone below my collarbone, there wouldn’t have been much they could do for me. Fortunately, it stayed above my shoulders, so we went after it with 35 radiation treatments and seven weeks of chemo. And I lost 85 pounds in 100 days. It was a crazy time, but I had my family, my friends and my community to support me. I’m not a religious person, myself, but I also had spiritual support from people in the community, which I appreciated. 

One person I made friends with in this process is the senior pastor of the local First Christian Church. Brad and I have since become very good friends, and we have deep philosophical and theological discussions often. It’s interesting because we come from very different perspectives, but we actually see things similarly.  

In your life, you have moments that shake you—say somebody in your life passes away or a traumatic event happens, even on a national level such as 9/11.  And in those moments, you have clarity of thought. Everything is clearer. Your perspective is changed—it’s all in line. But, the farther you get away from that event in time, the more that clarity kind of fades away and you once again get caught up in life and the web of just doing your day-to-day stuff. But the thing about cancer—cancer is that same moment of clarity every day for a year. When faced with that reality, it’s a profound experience. 

I wasn’t really scared for myself; I was just terrified about how this was going to impact to my family, my kids, my wife. What would it do to them? That’s when you realize the important things in life and the things that aren’t important. Those unimportant things just go away. They aren’t even on the back burner anymore. They’re gone. Now, I fill my life with the things that matter and the people I care about and the people who care about me and who bring me great, positive energy. As it turns out, I am surrounded by great people with positive energy who have helped me through this. And the doctors did a miraculous thing and saved my life. 

We had some friends who came to me feeling helpless. They wanted to help, but in this situation, their hands were tied as to how to help. They decided the best way to show their support was to pay for things, so they put together a fabulous benefit at a great local venue in town and pitched in their time and money for the evening. It was a terrific event, but the money they raised was secondary compared to the love from all of the people there. I also got to see firsthand the people’s lives I have touched, and that’s more important than the money. 

The nature of the radio business is moving around and bouncing from station to station, but my wife and I really wanted to have a stable environment for our kids, so we wanted just one place to call home. We set up house here in this community and have stayed here for years. There’s no substitute for heritage and the time you spend with people and the events you share with them. Those are the things that you can’t replace. You can’t buy that experience. 

It was not lost on me the similarity with the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s that same kind of moment I was talking about earlier—it’s the clarity. In that movie, George doesn’t know what to do, but then, he gets that moment of clarity and he has that perspective to see what matters—and that’s what life’s all about. 

Since the cancer, I smile and laugh a lot more than I used to. I smile and laugh at things that I used to frown and scowl at. It’s a different perspective. It’s not that those things aren’t important to me, but I just don’t take them as seriously anymore. The things that bring me down in life—I have to categorize those things. The little irritants no longer matter. The woman in line at the grocery store with 17 items in the 15-item line—that just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s okay. I’m going to live if she has two more items. 

I’m still a radio announcer. That was one of the most miraculous things. When they first told me it was throat cancer, I thought, “I’m going to lose my voice, and that’s my money.” The doctors said I could have a feeding tube or I could keep trying to eat through my mouth, which would continue exercising my throat. So I didn’t get a feeding tube. I just forced myself to swallow and use my throat. The benefit of using my voice for 30 years I think helped my throat recover. I was out of work for three months, and I really couldn’t talk, but then, it slowly came back a little at a time. It’s not all the way back, and probably never will be 100%, but it’s pretty close. 

It’s a job that I love to do, so it’s really easy for me to get up and go to work in the morning. I like talking to the people on the radio, I like the people I work with, and I actually start work even before I leave the house. I get online and look at some work sites while I’m drinking my coffee. I take it pretty easy, and I don’t go to work until 10, so that gives me time to spend with my daughter as she’s getting ready for school and with my wife as she’s getting ready for work.  I have some coffee, oatmeal or scrambled eggs and then head into the station.

I’m a big believer in results-based work: do what you’re supposed to do and the rest of your time is not all for work. It’s about balance. I work to live; I don’t live to work. I work so I can spend quality time with my kids and my wife and my friends and doing the things that I enjoy. 

At first, the cancer knocked me down, and I couldn’t exercise. I did a lot of lying around, recovering. Now, I’m more active. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors. Less of it is for the sake of exercise and more of it is to just be outside in nature. I like to walk in the park, play disc golf with my son, walk my dogs in the woods behind our house, go mushroom hunting—things like that. 

I’ve made a conscious decision to not do things that I don’t want to do. I’m more concerned with how I spend my time than how I spend my money. I live a peaceful and happy life now.